The Great American Road Trip: Part 4

In the spirit of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday this week, we proceed on the Great American Road Trip from sweet, flashing Nashville, to the entirely magical NOLA.

New Orleans, L.A.

My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.

New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.

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Some of the beautiful colors of the Big Easy.
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Valence Cemetery. Much of NOLA is below sea level, so the graveyards are above ground!

 

Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.

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Crawfish at the NOLA Brewery!

City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.

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The madness of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.

The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.

After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!

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The best shrimp po’ boy in all of Louisiana at Parkway Bakery and Tavern!

 

 

City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!

 

We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.

City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.

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Beautiful architecture in the French Quarter.

There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.

We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.

In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.

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An incredibly decorated (and delicious) King Cake!
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Sunset on the Mississippi River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.

New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.

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Colorful, bustling artwork by talented Deveney Williams Productions. More at deveneywilliams.com.

 

The Great American Road Trip: Part 3

From our nation’s capital, we headed south to Music City: the capital of songwriting and country music.

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A light-bulb sign in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Nashville

Hello, flashing lights, buy-one-get-two cowgirl boots, home of hot chicken and the Man in Black. Nashville, the first official stop as co-pilots on our cross-country adventure, was only slightly warmer in temperature than D.C., but lightyears warmer in southern hospitality. We saw sun here for the first time in weeks, and light shone on the incredibly kind friends who hosted and welcomed us with homemade beer and great taste in music, and the equally friendly strangers who shared locals-only city tips and histories.

City tip: Head to East Nashville for a more hip, locals scene. Visit Drifters and sit at the bar for some good stories and even better BBQ!

It was a taste of the south, a taste of aforementioned hot chicken, which is absolutely no joke and caused my road trip partner to shed (or sweat?) a single tear of fiery deliciousness, a taste of a Bushwacker, a very boozy adult milkshake originating from the Caribbean and milking its way up the U.S. east coast, and a taste of rich entertainment industry history.

Our daytime activities consisted of seeing the Johnny Cash Museum, visiting Acme Radio and hiking in Percy Warner Park, while our nightlife involved strolling down Broadway, with its Honky Tonk music pouring from every bar, a Country Burlesque show at Skull’s in funky Printer’s Alley, and karaoke and mechanical bull riding at Wild Beaver.

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Country performers flooded the bars up and down the famous Broadway strip, also known as Honky Tonk Highway.

City tip: Musician’s etiquette asks for a dollar in the performer’s jar upon entry to a bar. Consider it a thanks-for-getting-up-there-and-making-Honky-Tonk-for-us, and a great-job-tip because in Nashville, every performer is talented enough to win on The Voice (we met one who actually had).

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The meeting of back doors: the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.

City tip: In the 1960s, Nashville’s early years in becoming the booming country capital it is today, musicians would perform at the Ryman Auditorium and head over through the alley entrance of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for a night-cap. To this day, the bar brings in performers and tourists alike.

All in all, Nashville was pleasing to the senses: great music for the ears, delectable treats for the tastebuds, intriguing history and sight-seeing for the mind and the eyes, and twangy charm for the heart. It was a city recognizable to this day for its role in shaping the country music genre and proclaiming itself as a place of hopeful and determined musicians and songwriters with aspirations of making it big time.

When sitting at Drifters’ bar chatting with a local, I asked, “Are you a musician?”

I caught myself instantly rephrasing my question in response to his jaded chuckle- “Is everyone a musician here?”

“Throw a rock in the air.” He responded. “It’ll land on one.”

So long Nashville, the city of aspiring dreams, rockstar karaoke singers, Honky Tonk bars, Country Burlesque and flashy lights and cowgirl boots. Next up, the Big Easy.

Check out the adrenaline rush below that was post-mechanical-bull-ride: my karaoke version of ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ by Amy Winehouse at Wild Beaver in Nashville!

I am Ready, 2017

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I woke up this morning feeling like it was spring. Not in the sense of temperature, but rather in energy. I felt newness, refreshment, about-to and growth. I rested my selenite and amethyst crystals upon my dormant perfect-birthday-gift dahlia to bath in the full moon light last night, and I cleansed my own soul with a quiet night of self-care, self-learning, self-containment and self-love. I will be moving to California on Tuesday; a dream of mine for the past 4 years. Feeling overly inspired, appreciative and accepting of today’s springtime-feel callings, I found myself not packing for the future but ironically reflecting on my past. I have been blessed with opportunities to see the world, and I am sure that it is part of my truth and calling. The draw I feel to absorb other cultures is an inseparable piece and constant craving of my soul. These items are a combination of treasures I’ve collected from my own travels, and puzzle pieces from friends that have only fueled my anthropological love-fire. I am ready, 2017. For west, for east, for ups and downs and for pursuing all of these sparkling entities that send my soul into full-blast rocket launch. I appreciate all you’ve been, and I accept all that you will be.

Surf, Sunshine & Sisterhood

Three weeks ago, I went, slightly impulsively, on a women’s surf, fitness, yoga and adventure retreat in Lagos, Portugal.

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Surfing on Portugal’s West Coast. Hannah Edy Photography

Envision: 7 a.m. beach circuits, learning how to surf in warm, green waves, the most delicious, locally sourced meals thrice a day every day, bottles of Portugal’s famous vinho verde, and the most amazing, encouraging group of women all living together for one week.

 

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Day 1 began with a sunrise run on the beach.

 

Read: the healthiest, most inspiring and well-intentioned week of my life to date.

 

 

 

It was a food critic’s most delicious dish yet, and an artist’s palate of all things brilliant and beautiful: green wine, 50-shades-of-turquoise blue water and fearless red energies of first-times mountain biking, horseback riding and jumping off a 30-foot dam. Add in constant sunshine, orange sunsets and purple zinc painting the faces of every unstoppable surf-chick-warrior in our tribe.

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Purple zinc became our chosen markings.
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Paella! Photo courtesy of Courtney Brokaw

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the divine meals and wine, we got a taste of the life of the unmatchable Sophie Everard, (who actually oozes radness) and was the chief-organizer of the Mad To Live Women’s Retreat in partnership with Lagos’ very own, The Surf Experience.

Fearlessly fit: featuring iconic Portuguese hand-painted tiles.
Fearlessly fit: featuring iconic Portuguese hand-painted tiles.
Sophie treating me with all of Portugal's delicacies.
Sophie treating me with all of Portugal’s delicacies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophie is a traveling, writing and endlessly-exploring fitness blogger, sponsored by great organizations and companies for her own drive and very greatness. She alone was an inspiration in embracing unconventionality in part of one’s pursuit of truth. How can I ever thank you for providing a space that turned into the best week ever for so many of us?!

Photo by brilliant, Hannah Edy Photography
Photo by brilliant, Hannah Edy Photography

There is something to be said about the power and brilliance of a group of women who have come together as a team. I have experienced it before within my own group of girlfriends, and even more so on athletic teams in high school or college.

Women are intuitive and capable, instinctually maternal and because of this (evolutionarily speaking) created to take care and to love. We women are vessels with complex depths, and it is this empathetic intelligence that is both the essence of our magnificence and at times, the root of our aching.

Thus being, there is a special type of community, companionship and comfort in a group of women that has chosen to support and encourage each other’s depths. There is a wholeness in feeling understood by one of your own.

Hannah Edy Photography
Hannah Edy Photography

It is the understanding that you are not alone. You are not crazy or small in this world; rather in your safest space, surrounded by reassuring people who understand and appreciate your depths, you are grand. You are undoubtedly the very best being for everything your heart dreams of doing.

Yet we live in a world, swarming with distorted representations in mass media, that aim to keep us women apart.

It is oppression stemming from fear, and the imbalance of energy and the suppression of the Sacred Feminine over centuries that now requires many years of healthy, perpetual restoration from both male and female counterparts.

Humans have a less-than-grand history of making certain groups of people feel small out of fear of their potential to be great; perhaps even greater than the fearful themselves. But a true partnership in this life is bringing the other up to their fullest potential, understanding that they could never fill your particular role in this life-web; only you can do that. Lifting someone up to their greatness could never take away from your own, for they could never succeed in your role; it is not, nor can be for them, just as their role is for them alone, and could never be for you.

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The surfing, dancing, jumping, purple-zinc tribe. Hannah Edy Photography

I’m learning that it is not a man’s role to understand those depths of a woman, or to mirror them. The Chinese principle, yin and yang, the union and dance of opposites, honors exactly that: the differences between the two energies.

 

And I believe that a true man is not threatened by equality of the sexes; rather, he finds discomfort in the privileges he experiences in a system without it.

First-time mountain biking was exciting, especially when it led us to this view of the Algarve.
First-time mountain biking was exciting, especially when it led us to this view of the Algarve.

There was divine energy among the group of women collaborating with intentions of being healthy, driven, open-minded and full-spirited that week in Lagos.

In the very most, this is a prayer for the rejuvenation of feminine sacredness and a restoration of male-female balance. In the very least, it is my whole-hearted hope for all women to experience the community that a women’s retreat offers, as a stepping stone to a life system where all of us have each other’s best interests and spirits in mind and heart.

A wise friend of mine recently said to me, “there is perhaps nothing more powerful than a group of women dancing together– so long as they have each other’s backs.”

And during our time in Lagos, Portugal, we danced. And we laughed and explored and cheered each other on and saluted the sun and ran and fell and stood up once more every time. And it was not until the very end of the day when it was time to rest that we finally stopped– only until the sun came out again the very next morning, and we were ready to take on the world all over again.

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Magnificent sunset after a beach yoga session.
Hannah Edy Photography
Hannah Edy Photography

 

Check out below for Sophie’s video compilation of all of our fun activities during the week! Disclaimer: there is a clip of me being dragged on stage from the bathroom and free-style singing in front of a crowd before a DJ was to come on. My hands were wet. Enjoy! 😉

 

 

 

Full Circle

It’s been two months since I’ve returned home from a four-month backpacking adventure in South America. I flew home to surprise both my mother and father on their birthday on May 6 (yes: same year, same hospital, no: not related) despite serving a spoonful of white lies in the weeks prior about inexpensive flights at the end of the month, when I could probably come home.

Surprising my inquisitive, detail-oriented mother was the imminent task at hand and my absolute victory was reason for a full weekend of birthday-turned-Mother’s Day celebrations, only to be continued with the return of my father from his California surf trip later that week. And my 23rd birthday. Needless to say, returning home and being home came at me nothing less than full force.

I’ve been bummed about this unwritten “conclusion” blog post regarding my travels, and a good friend said to me recently, “maybe you’re just not done concluding.” Maybe he was right.

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The sun sets over sand dunes of oasis village, Huacachina, in Ica, Peru. Awesome sand boarding!

Reverse culture shock was instantaneous upon my touchdown in Orlando, Fla., for my connecting flight.

I could fill my filter water bottle from– and what’s more, drink right out of– the water bubbler without concern for sanity or cleanliness? I could call or text anyone without having to search or beg for access to Wi-Fi? I am expected to put this toilet paper– wait, there’s toilet paper, and soap, and paper towels in every bathroom– in the toilet instead of a trash can? Can the pipes really handle that waste?

My most shocking observation was the contrast and complete social and cultural opposition of South Americans and North Americans regarding technology and electronics, and children. The two categories of precious cargo are at polar ends of sociocultural spectrums on both continents.

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A young schoolgirl waits for tourists and passersby in the Sacred Valley of Cusco, Peru, in hopes to sell knit goods and souvenirs to.
In South America, particularly in less industrialized and more traditional areas of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, I noticed an overwhelming
unsuspecting demeanor in parents. Children were running around at all ages and all hours of the day and night, often times alone without any
supervision.

Kids are plentiful; particularly in highly religious countries like Ecuador and Peru that have strict abortion laws. And they are costly.

Less prevalent and in higher demand are technology and electronics. Unfortunately, pickpocketing is still an issue in many parts of South America and my boyfriend and I had heard our fair share of travel horror stories. Constant awareness and overprotectiveness of cell phones, laptops, tablets, music devices etc. were drilled into our young, blonde, English-speaking minds.

Some of my first instincts in the Orlando International Airport were to tell people that their bags were open. “Do you know your iPhone is hanging right out of your unzipped backpack?!”, I would think anxiously. The number of electronics exceeded the amount of people around me, and they were all being used or lying nonchalantly near their owners.

I refrained from revealing my rusty knowledge of United States of America norms and entered the fully stocked bathroom, only to see a mother shuffling her probably 8-year-old daughter through the three-person-throng from the stall to the sink with a fearful look on her face.

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White and pink flamingos graze in the lakes of Bolivia’s salt and desert-scapes in Uyuni.
Following days and weeks brought more observations. I didn’t realize how accustomed I was to the beautiful, ever-dynamic landscapes of South America. Bolivia still offered the most spectacular starry sky I have
ever seen in my life. The Amazonian jungle of Ecuador, endless, looming peaks and valleys of Peru, Bolivia’s salt flats and deserts, the entire Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, the rolling hills and waters of Brazil and the Andes mountain range that accompanied us for
much of it all; our planet had never been so utterly magnificent to me.

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Snorkeling in the magical waters of Puerto López, Ecuador.
It was easy to find myself in awe each day. It was easy and convenient to shop at local outdoor markets full of traditional farmers and vendors, not to mention the economical and social impact it made. It was impressing to cover so much distance and explore so many places on foot, and not via car.

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Avocados, tomatoes and gatos for sale at Santiago, Chile’s central market.

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Fish market in Santiago.
 

 

 

 

 

 

It was humbling to hear people speaking a different language than I did. It was beautiful mind practice every single day to pick up new words, listen for words that I had already learned or try to figure out what strangers were saying.

It was special and soul-opening to meet people chasing after the same dreams and adventures as me: the spirit of being alive.

It is seeing these changes around me and feeling these changes inside of me that required all of this time to process. It is returning to the same place with the same people and a similar routine and knowing that I am very different now, though it’s not easy to communicate or show.

“So, what’s next?”

It is summer-after-each-year-of-college inquiries multiplied by Thanksgiving and Christmas family small talk. It is a common question, born of human curiosity. It is intrigue that seems to grow exponentially in face of unconventionality. What does one do after backpacking for four months? There’s no chapter for that in the rat race handbook, and hey, I’m dying to know, too.

But at some point along the way, if even subconsciously, I determined the conventional life was not for me. I knew I wanted to travel after college and that I had many life lessons to encounter before I could share my gifts with the world. I know that South America was just the start of this winding and unsystematic path of mine, and that excites, though scares me at times.

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A Brazilian rainbow chases dark clouds over Argentina in Iguassu Falls.
The mind, soul and spirit I was created with and the life decisions I have made thus far have demonstrated and called for a different route. It is unknown and self-manifested, in the same way that they all are. I do not have the answers. And I’m coming to accept the terrifying and freeing truth that I never will. No one will. But I have dreams and strengths and ideas and gifts to bring to the world, and I’m the best possible version of me that I’ll ever be for what’s coming next.

And it’s already here, happening everyday. It’s now, it’s present, it’s ever-flowing and ever-growing. And my eyes, heart and arms are open for it.

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Cristo Redentor in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Patagonian Present

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A rainbow welcomes us into Patagonia on a bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales.

Humans have long recalled the healing effects time spent in nature has on the mind, body and soul. It is a concept that has been explored by classic novelists, poets and more recently, scientists and neurologists.

While perhaps still unexplainable, the refreshing, rejuvenating qualities of spending time disconnected from the real world and connected to our real roots is undeniable.

Though I believed I had loved and appreciated and felt nature’s healing properties before in my existence, it wasn’t until I spent a week fully plugged into the wonders of camping in the Torres del Paine National Park of Chile that I finally understood.

Seven days without a shower. Six mornings of oatmeal for breakfast. An average of 20 kilometers of trekking per day. Living in tents, permanent dirt under fingernails, glaciers, wild horses, guanacos, sore knees, friends, turquoise lakes, golden fields, autumn foliage and blistering, snow-crested, looming dark grey mountains.

And the whole time, I was present.

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A guanaco lounges in the grass before looming dark skies and mountains.
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Campers’ tents at Refugio Grey on April 7.

I wasn’t thinking about who did this or achieved that; who landed a new job or started a business, who got engaged, started dating or went to the raging party last night.

I was disconnected from this “real world,” and these thoughts that had nothing to do with me nor affected my truth or being. It was just me and nature and my own, honest thoughts. And no one, especially not nature, was there to judge me.

We are not naturally programmed to concern ourselves with what others are saying and doing. It is a social construction taught to us, induced and reinforced by the media in commercials, movies, songs and advertisements. It is a concept that has found its most influential platform, today, through social media in particular.

We are living in a world and culture that is driven by consumerism and monetary gains- gains that flourish from honing in on human fears and egos.

These all-surrounding, mass-broadcast thoughts, are distractions in the simplest form. They are the fears and concerns that we consume and allow to pull us away from the truths that we know about ourselves, our wants, dreams and needs.

They are the elements of seeming complexity that we inhale and tack on to our self-knowledge, making it deceivingly difficult to decipher what it is we really want to do and how we want to live our lives.

These distractions are the ones that take our dedication and desire to travel the world or pursue our dream career and mix them with Johnny getting accepted into a rigorous graduate program and Jane opening a school for civil war refugees. Shouldn’t we be doing something like that instead?

“I should travel right after I finish university because I won’t have the time or money or health to do so later on. I should get into the workforce right away or I’ll fall behind my peers. I should be in a relationship, be engaged and pregnant, I should make that career change, move cross-country, volunteer abroad and exercise more so I can look like him or her.”

Distractions, fears, comparing ourselves to others- they are merely thoughts of negativity that prevent us from listening to the honesty of our hearts and souls; the parts of us that know the answers deep down inside. (They also create a market for corporate consumerism to feed and profit off of).

And they are not natural. When disconnected from these thoughts, nature is an honest, healthy, kind old teacher and friend. She will listen and demonstrate the lessons and knowledge that you are seeking. Nature is the truest and most beautiful reflection of our very selves.

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The glorious Grey Glacier, observed from a suspension bridge in the park.

In that week, I was free of all the layers of distractions that wouldn’t ever naturally infiltrate my mind. I knew only my own, unadulterated thoughts and my only concern was the best version of me that I could be.

Through hail, snow, sun and winds, I was stripped down of these negative distortions, being reset back to the truths I knew about me in the first place- a clearer understanding of myself and my life.

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A. marching into our week-long trek on day 1.

I’ve deleted the Facebook application from my phone. I engaged in deep self-reflection in those hours of walking that have guided me to the next steps in living my life truthfully after this trip. I’ve addressed feelings that I’ve avoided for longer than I can remember, and I know how to shine light on them now. I’ve kept these lessons from my Patagonian experience and enlightenment close to heart, and I don’t plan on going another 22 years without the clarity that only nature can bring me back to. On top of it all, it was the most beautiful place I’ve seen on Earth. What could ever compete with that?

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The famous Torres, glowing at sunrise on our final morning in the park.

 

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